Informant says first victim buried at House of Death was U.S. citizen

David Castro killed, buried at Juarez home after bungled kidnapping


In the spring of 2005, then U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton announced that he had cut a plea deal with Heriberto Santillan Tabares, the narco-trafficker who orchestrated the carnage at the now infamous House of Death in Juarez.

As part of that plea agreement, Sutton announced that he was dropping all the murder charges against Santillan, who in turn agreed to cop to charges of “conducting a criminal enterprise [drug trafficking]” — accepting a 25-year prison sentence in the bargain.

At the time, Sutton — the chief federal prosecutor for South Texas, based in San Antonio — justified the plea bargain with the following words to the public:

All of the murders were committed in Ciudad Juarez, by Mexican citizens, including law enforcement officials, and all of the victims were citizens of Mexico. While much of the evidence relating to the murders is from Mexico, Sutton said his office would share with Mexican authorities any evidence developed in the United States.

It turns out that Sutton’s claim, according to the U.S. government informant at the center of the House of death, simply isn’t true. In fact, the first murder victim to be buried at the House of Death was a U.S. citizen named David Castro, the informant asserts.

Over the past few weeks, Narco News has conducted a series of phone interviews with the House of Death informant, Guillermo Ramirez Peyro — a former Mexican cop who is now sitting in a prison cell in Minnesota as he fights an effort by Justice Department attorneys to deport him to Mexico (where he claims the narco-traffickers he ratted out will, with the assistance of corrupt elements within the Mexican government, surely torture and murder him).

The story of David Castro is among a series of revelations that Ramirez has brought forward during the course of the Narco News interviews to date. Ramirez, who worked as an informant for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), played a key role in operating the House of Death and actually assisted in carrying out one of the initial murders at the house, located on a street called Parsioneros in Juarez — and by his own admission was present for a total of three murders at the house. (Another witness, a gravedigger, claims Ramirez was present for at least five murders).

Now, Ramirez also concedes that he played a role in the kidnapping and murder of Castro in the fall of 2002. Ramirez is quick to point out, though, that he does not consider himself responsible for Castro’s death.

However, it is clear that, while acting as a paid informant for ICE, Ramirez did put into motion the events that led to Castro’s murder and eventual burial at the House of Death — something that Sutton, ICE and the Department of Justice, to date, have failed to acknowledge.

This revelation is important because U.S. government officials, via court pleadings, have only conceded that the first murder they were made aware of at the House of Death was that of a Mexican attorney named Fernando Reyes. After the informant Ramirez reported that murder in August 2003 to his ICE handlers — and the fact that he had participated in the slaying — high-level ICE and Justice Department officials approved Ramirez’ continued use in the investigation against Mexican narco-trafficker Santillan — who headed a Juarez cell of the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (VCF) drug organization.

In the wake of that fateful decision, the House of Death claimed at least 11 more victims — all buried in the backyard of the house on Parsioneros. In addition, the decision to continue the investigation — even though Sutton’s office had enough evidence to indict Santillan months prior to the murder of Fernando Reyes — ultimately led Santillan’s thugs (Mexican cops on his payroll) to target a DEA agent and his family in Juarez for assassination — a fate they barely escaped.

That incident, which played out in mid-January 2004, led El Paso DEA Special Agent in Charge Sandalio Gonzalez to pen a memo, delivered to Sutton, that decried ICE’s role in allowing the “needless” carnage to continue at the House of Death. In the wake of writing that memo, rather than investigate Gonzalez’ charges, Sutton used his connections within the Justice Department to retaliate against and silence the DEA commander.

Now, contrary to what Sutton and other U.S. officials have claimed all along — that all of the House of Death murder victims were Mexican citizens — it seems the first victim buried at the House of Death was El Paso resident and U.S. citizen David Castro.

Assuming Ramirez is telling the truth — and his story on that front is consistent with a statement he provided the Mexican government — then Sutton’s claim that “Mexico has a superior interest in prosecuting those responsible” is misleading at best. In the worst light, it is an outright lie — and represents another effort to obstruct justice in a bid to conceal the U.S. government’s complicity in the House of Death murders.

Burying the truth

Ramirez claims that Castro was a truck driver who, in the past, had assisted a Juarez narco-trafficking cell headed by an individual nicknamed Chito. As part of his informant work for ICE, Ramirez says he approached Castro seeking to entice him to transport illegal drug and cigarette shipments for “his people.” Ramirez, at the time, had already infiltrated Santillan’s organization as an ICE informant and also was working a separate cigarette smuggling case for ICE. Castro, of course, had no hint that Ramirez was an ICE informant and assumed he was a fellow associate in the illegal smuggling business.

Ramirez, in the phone interview from prison, told Narco News the following:

What happened is I met him [Castro] to set up a drug deal. … One day, I said lets go to Juarez [in the fall of 2002 to make arrangements for a drug transaction]. I suggested that we walk across the bridge [from El Paso to Juarez] to save time when we come back [avoiding the vehicle traffic on the bridge]. When we were in Juarez, we ran into Chito, who was with a group of people, and we both knew him, so we said hello. At one point [during the conversation] Chito said, “What about my money?” David owed Chito money from a [past drug deal]. And then the men grabbed David, and I said, “wait,” and they said, “Get the fuck out of here; we’re taking him [Castro].”

Ramirez claimed Castro, at that point, told him to “not worry,” that he had the money and everything would work out. So, Ramirez recounted, he returned to El Paso and informed his ICE handlers of the kidnapping. Ramirez also said he called Castro’s wife in El Paso to inform her about what had transpired.

“The next day, she [the wife] talked with me to ask me my opinion,” Ramirez said. “I told her if she calls the police, they will kill him. But she decided to call the FBI, and they interviewed me and I told them what I knew.”

Subsequently, Ramirez claimed the FBI contacted Chito’s wife and children in El Paso. After that, Chito got wind of the fact that the FBI was involved, and sometime after that, Ramirez said, he learned that “they did kill him [Castro].”

“The FBI knew Chito was the kidnapper, but they couldn’t do anything because the kidnapping happened in Mexico,” Ramirez said.

Whether the FBI was aware that Castro was subsequently murdered is not clear. However, Ramirez said he did inform his ICE handlers of that fact and also that Castro’s body was ultimately buried at the House of Death. He said he made his ICE handlers aware of these facts prior to the murder of Mexican attorney Fernando Reyes in August 2003.

Ramirez added that Chito and Santillan were acquaintances, even though they worked in different narco-trafficking cells. He claimed that one of the individuals who worked with Santillan (a man named Alex Garcia) offered to bury Castro’s body at the House of Death on Parsioneros.

“At that time, Alex (Garcia) and me were working together (while Ramirez was an ICE informant),” Ramirez said. “After meeting up with [Chito] one time in a bar [in Juarez], I talked with him and he said Alex [Garcia] had contacted him about getting rid of the body [Castro’s body]. His body was buried at the house on Parsioneros.”

When Santillan ordered the murder of Fernando Reyes, Ramirez said, Garcia proposed to Santillan that he bury the body at the Parsioneros house as well.

“Then, from that point on, they started to use it as the House of Death,” Ramirez said.

Interestingly, in Mexican press accounts of the list of victims unearthed at the House of Death in early 2004, there is no mention of David Castro.

In addition, U.S. officials have never stated publicly that a U.S. citizen was among the victims found buried at the Parsioneros house. In fact, the only known victim from the U.S. was a young man from the El Paso-area named Louis Padilla — who was not a U.S. citizen, though he was a legal U.S. resident at the time of his murder.

Had Ramirez not sought to draw Castro into a smuggling deal to advance his informant work for ICE, then it is arguable that Castro might still be alive today. The fact that, according to Ramirez, ICE was fully aware of Castro’s murder and subsequent burial at the House of Death months prior to the murder of Fernando Reyes — a killing carried out with the participation of their informant — means that Sutton’s office should have been aware that the U.S had a “superior interest” in investigating that crime and bringing the killers to justice.

But it seems that interest is outweighed by the fact that investigating Castro’s murder would inevitably lead to a trail that could implicate officials at ICE and the Department of Justice (including Sutton, who now works for former U.S. Attorney General Ashcroft’s law firm) in obstruction of justice and complicity in the House of Death murders.

So, we can expect that Castro’s body will remain buried in the shadows of a long-running cover-up that implicates former, and possibly current, high-level officials within the U.S. government.

That is, until enough people seek to bend the arc of justice back toward the truth in this case.

Stay tuned: More revelations from the Informant Interviews are coming….

• See prior story in the continuing Informant Interviews series: ICE, U.S. prosecutors turned blind eye to Juarez death houses




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About Bill Conroy